At age seven, I encountered my first bears in the wild, in Yosemite National Park. I hiked away from my family’s canvas tent cabin at the Curry Village campground and walked down toward one of the many cold rapid moving rivers in the beautiful valley. I became lost that morning in the splendor of the Giant Sequoia trees and the lush green meadows in the valley floor.
I easily recall that when four adult Black Bears (actually more cinnamon) and three cubs strolled by me when I wandered off the path I was so captivated that I completely forgot about being lost. The bears were friendly, and remained comfortable in my presence. It never occurred to me to be concerned about my safety, or theirs.
I talked quietly to each of the bears, watching their curious expressions as they responded with grunts, and followed them the entire day through the countless blooming flowers and tall green grass. I watched the frequent Gray Squirrels running about and the occasional Mule Deer roaming near the riverbed of the roaring Merced River.
Sometimes I watched as the cubs were wrestling, falling, and nipping each other. They were very playful and seemed curious about me. When the family of bears ate huckleberries, blueberries, or other berries, I ate berries. When they rested, I rested. When they looked for other areas to forage at wet meadows along creeks and river, I walked along with them.
While they ripped into rotting fallen logs with their claws grubbing ants and beetle larvae, I quenched my thirst at the creek or river. They also ate grasses and pine nuts. This was a time when the Yosemite rangers still encouraged contact with the bears, including feeding them.
In fact, the National Park Service maintained several “bear pits” in the park where bears were fed garbage in an attempt to keep them out of park campgrounds and lodging areas, and to provide visitor entertainment.
I was fortunate that their foray took us all back to a meadow near Curry Village where I could see the evening campfires and hear distant voices. Although I wonder if it was by accident. With a sideways glance from the bears and cubs, my adopted bear family swiftly climbed the crest of the hill we had just descended and they disappeared over the horizon.
Thus began my lifelong affinity with wildlife, Black Bears in particular, and nature in general.